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In Remembrance of Derek Pearsall

Posted on 17 October 2021

We regret to announce the death of Prof. Derek Pearsall, on 14 October 2021, at the age of 90.

Derek was one of three co-founders of the Centre for Medieval Studies in 1968, with Barrie Dobson and Elizabeth Salter. He had been hired by the Department of English and Related Literature a few years after the founding of the University of York, and continued as Professor of English until he moved to Harvard University as the Gurney Professor of Medieval Literature in 1985. Throughout his time at Harvard, Derek and his wife Rosemary maintained their home in Clifton and they returned there after he retired: York was their home. Derek continued as a constant presence at conferences and talks by visiting scholars at the Centre, and getting to know many of the postgraduates over the years. He celebrated his 90th birthday on the 28th of August.

Derek had a world-wide reputation as a scholar of Middle English literature, with a focus on the principal Middle English authors of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. He wrote biographies of John Lydgate and Geoffrey Chaucer, edited the C text of Piers Plowman by William Langland, and wrote numerous books and articles about the authors of Middle English literature and the manuscripts in which their works were disseminated. 

Only two months ago, in August 2021, he published (together with Linne Mooney) a catalogue of the manuscripts of John Gower's Confessio Amantis, and he has two articles forthcoming. His influence was much more far-reaching than these many important publications suggest, as he was a constant at medieval conferences, encouraging younger scholars and serving on boards of academic societies and research projects. His many students and friends from York and Harvard will mourn his passing as one of the greats of medieval literary studies.